Sleeping Bags

Your sleeping bag is a very important piece of equipment on a trail crew. It can mean the difference between a good night’s sleep, and adding to the exhaustion that you are already going to experience working harder than you ever have before. It might even mean the difference between frostbite or not.

I had a North Face Bigfoot. When I was buying gear for my summer in Yosemite, the Bigfoot was all the rage. Not everybody had one, but it seemed like everybody raved over how awesome they were. I bought mine at The North Face Outlet in Berkeley. It was a ‘second’, which meant that it had some sort of cosmetic factory defect that prevented North Face from selling it at full value. I received a good discount on the price, and it was a fully functional bag. It was rated to -5°F, which meant that it was ‘guaranteed’ to preserve your body heat at temperatures down to five degrees below zero Fahrenheit. This was a limited ‘guarantee’ (in quotes) because everybody sleeps differently. What might keep one person warm at zero degrees might not keep a ‘cold sleeper’ warm at thirty degrees.

My bag was also a ‘long’. It was designed longer for tall people. I’m not tall, so according to conventional sleeping bag wisdom, the extra length would be extra space for my body heat to keep warm and therefore not very efficient. I figured the extra foot space would be helpful for stuffing clothes down into to keep them warm for the next day. It worked. I really loved my sleeping bag.

My Bigfoot’s design limits were not tested in Yosemite. Apart from that one Arctic front that came through at the end of July, we had pretty mild weather all summer in Yosemite. My bag got tested the next year, 1988, on a regular CCC trails spike on Orleans Mountain in the Klamath Mountains. Our spike was the first week of June, and one morning we woke to find ourselves buried under about eighteen inches of snow. We were snowed in for four days before the four wheel drive vehicles could get in to bring us out. I stayed snug in my two-person backpacking tent and my Bigfoot. It worked like a champ.

My bag’s biggest test came the next year, 1989, in Kings Canyon National Park. We had a spike camp on Glenn Pass late in September. Now that was cold. We didn’t have a thermometer, so I have no idea how cold it actually got. I do know that water was frozen solid every morning. I also know that my trusty, dependable -5° bag did not keep me warm. In fairness to the Bigfoot, it was two years old and likely had lost some loft…the ‘fluffiness’ of the insulation that helps retain heat…but I have never been so cold as on those nights at Glenn Pass sleeping in the cook tent, trying to pile boxes and produce around my bag to improve the insulation.

These lessons learned handed down to another generation of trail workers. When I was a C-1 at Delta Center in Stockton, I took the Corpsmembers who had been selected for the Backcountry program on a supply buying trip to Berkeley. The salespeople kept trying to push ‘summer’ bags on the Corpies. Summer bags are only rated to about 40°. They are not even close to being adequate for serious trail crew equipment. A couple of the Corpsmembers seemed on the verge of the summer bags because of cost and weight. I asked them, “Do you know where you’re going to be in September?”

Their only possible reply was, “No.”

“It gets pretty cold at ten thousand feet in September. If you buy the summer bag, you are gambling on where you are going to be when it turns cold.”

They all bought the better bags. After the season, I heard back from some of them “Thank you for pushing the better bag!”

I still have my Bigfoot, twenty-seven years later. It doesn’t go on the trail anymore. The zipper blew out about ten years ago. The outer shell is torn in a couple of places. It mainly gets rolled out when the kids have friends sleeping over, or if I am going somewhere overnight and I’m not sure of the lodging accommodations. One thing is for sure…it’s not being tossed out into the trash.

Trail dust is thicker than blood.

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Powdered Doughnuts

One question that I get asked by people about Backcountry trail crews is “Where do you go to the bathroom?”

Well, when we’re on the trail, we hike off the trail and find a private tree. And then the follow up question comes: “What about…well…number two?”

O.K., here’s the secret. We really do have a bathroom in camp. No, it’s not one of the one-person Blue Rooms you see at construction sites or outdoors events around the country. It’s a big pit dug into the ground that in polite company is called a ‘latrine’, but trail crews call ‘the shitter’. (I don’t think trail crews have ever been accused of being ‘polite company’!)

The latrine is located far enough outside of camp that I thought they would invoke the ‘two person minimum’ rule for hiking out to it. It is a deep but narrow pit dug into the ground. The length depends upon available room. When the pit is finished, a log round is placed flat side down on each end, then two sturdy branches are laid across the pit and are secured to the rounds. Finally, for added comfort, at least two toilet seats are laid across the sturdy branches and secured. Viola! You have a latrine! (Don’t worry. At the end of the season, as part of breaking camp down, the latrine will be covered over by all of the dirt that was removed.)

The latrine rules are pretty simple. Some sort of ‘occupied’ signal is worked out. Toilet paper is kept on a round in easy reach of each seat. The rolls are kept under metal coffee cans to protect the paper from the elements.

O.K., I can hear the groans out there now about the very thought of all that…waste…dropping into and accumulating in an open air hole in the ground. What about odor? What about flies? Oh…the hygiene nightmare, right?

Give us some credit. We had a solution for all of that…odor, flies, and hygiene. It came in the form of a white powder called ‘slaked lime’, or calcium hydroxide. The lime looked like talcum powder, and it came in the same type of plastic shaker can you would recognize from your regular household baby powder. Application was simple. After you finished with your ‘business’, you took the lime and sprinkled it into the pit to cover the new material. You wanted enough to cover the odor, but you didn’t want to use too much. You did not want to run out of lime! How much was enough? You sprinkled until it looked like the same amount of coverage you would see on a powdered doughnut.

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Good Medicine

Serendipity. That’s the only way to explain it. It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Late one day I was walking from our main camp to my ‘cave’. Crossing in front of me not twenty feet away was a slinky brown critter that I thought was a weasel. Trailing right behind the critter were three smaller copies of the same critter!

I froze and watched them scamper across the rock, between some boulders, and out of sight. I tried to follow them but as soon as they realized they were being stalked, they made a dash for some trees and disappeared for good.

Around the campfire that night I told the folks about the weasel I had seen. Erin perked up and asked for a more detailed description. When I finished, he said, ”That wasn’t a weasel. Well, it’s in the weasel family, but what you saw was a pine marten. They’re not common. I’ve only seen them a few times, and in all the years I’ve been working in the Park, I’ve never seen kits. Congratulations!”

Just one more thing that made that Vogelsang camp a ‘good medicine spot’.

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Reymann Lake

The cold front had finally passed by August 1. Spirits lifted. I had spent the last couple of weekends being a camp slug. I couldn’t do that three weeks in a row, so I planned an overnight trip to Reymann Lake with Dewey and Derrick.

I enjoyed spending time with Dewey. There was nothing complicated about Dewey. He always saw the positive side of everything. He had quite the imagination, too. He had an imaginary Martian friend he would talk to. His Martian friend’s name was Moshkylogy (MOSH-kĭ-LOG-ee). Dewey made crew journal entries for Moshky. Dewey even demonstrated for us how the Martian language sounds. Moose even learned some Martian. She had some lively Martian conversations with Dewey! I know…it sounds weird. But Dewey had such an innocent naïveté about him that it wasn’t weird at all. It was kinda fun and added character to the crew.

Derek was an alternate who joined the crew just before we left Wawona. When he was off duty, Derek always wore his black beret and gray camo pants. Most weekends, Derek didn’t want to leave camp. He just wanted to hang out and read military history.

During the week I had been talking with Derek about being a camp slug. I was falling into a rut that I didn’t really want to be in. Derek realized that summer was passing us by and he hadn’t been out to see anything yet. I talked him into going with me to Reymann Lake, the place where I had tried to catch up with Anne and Wayne on the July 4th weekend. Dewey thought it would be a good hike and offered to join us. Since we needed three anyway for a cross country hike, it was a perfect plan. We talked about the hike for the rest of the week.

Saturday morning rolled around. I had lost almost all of my motivation for a cross country hike. Derek didn’t seem very motivated, either. Dewey, now…Dewey was motivated! He chattered all morning about going on a cross country hike with his good buddies George and Derek. I couldn’t let Dewey down. I decided to suck it up and go. Derek still wasn’t sure he wanted to go, until I pointed out that we needed three people for a cross country hike. If Derek didn’t go, Dewey and I couldn’t go, either. The guilt trip worked! We left camp right after brunch.

I already knew from my failed solo attempt over Rafferty that I had tried to cross the ridge too far south. We continued north on the Rafferty trail past the creek we saw marked on the map before we headed up the ridge. We spent the afternoon picking our way around and up our friends, the boulders. We crested the ridge in the perfect spot. We had a pretty easy decent to Reymann Lake. We found a good camping spot far enough away from the lake among some erratic boulders. Erratics are big boulders dropped in unusual places by retreating glaciers. These boulders were eight or ten feet tall. A lodgepole forest had grown up around them. We had a great time finding different routes for climbing them. One thing they all had in common…marmot scat proved they had all been used as marmot lookouts!

We spent the rest of the day lounging around the lake. Dewey took a nap under a tree. Derek read his book. I took a long time to write a short journal entry. I spent the afternoon simply slow watching.

We had a quiet dinner, talking about who we were, where we were from, and where we wanted to go. The quiet conversation continued as the sun set. Wilderness rules said that we could not have an open fire here, so when the sun went down for the night, so did we.

I was awake at sunrise the next morning, as usual. The first one awake, as usual. Sunrise has always been my favorite time of day. Darkness goes away. New light promises that anything can happen. Reymann Lake’s surface was perfectly still. Birds were starting their day. It was a beautiful time to breathe deeply of the crisp alpine air and slow watch.

Life was good.

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August 1, 1987: Glad I Came

Here I sit on the bank of Reyman Lake with Dewey and Derek. It was just a short hike, but we’re all pretty tired just the same. Dewey is crashed out under a tree. Derek is kicking back against a rock reading a book.

Like I said, it was just a short hike around Rafferty Peak, but to be honest Derek and I didn’t really want to come in the fir t place. Derek and Dewey don’t know it, but I’ve been so tired from work that I haven’t felt like doing anything for the last couple of weekends. I just don’t want to be a proverbial camp slug. The only reason I came today was because I’ve been telling Dewey and Derek I was going to.

Now that I’m here, I’m glad I came. With everyone so quiet the animals and birds are resuming their normal activities around us. A couple mountain chickadees were feeding in the trees above us; a squirrel is playing in the tree in front of me.

I guess I’m not like most backcountry types who are into hiking marathons and peak bagging. I like to go someplace and stick around a while. Sure Jose and Rolando did Amelia Earhart Peak. But do they know about the rock rabbits and marmots that live up there? Jose insisted that marmots wouldn’t live up there, but I saw one right at the peak. Do they know how beautiful the moonlight is reflecting off the glacial polish down by Ireland Lake?

I agree with Tom Brown’s philosophy that we have to slow down and become a participant with nature, not just rush right through it. To me it is more desirable to sit quietly in one place for an hour or two just to get a glimpse of nature as it accepts my presence and resumes its normal activities, than it is to hike for an hour or two just to see how far I can get. When you’re hiking, all you see are rocks and trees and glimpses of animals and birds as they hurry to get away from you. And the only reason the rocks and trees don’t run is because they can’t.

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Building a Better Mousetrap

Mice were always a problem in the cook tent. They were a bigger nuisance than bears. Bears are big and loud, and they scare away easily. Mice were worse. They came in undetected in the middle of the night and ate their way into the food supply. Supplies like bread were kept inside a cage build specifically for protection, but mice always seemed to find their way in. They always came in too quietly for the KP sleeping in the tent on bear watch to hear.

One day Jose and Glen decided they were going to do something about it.

They took and empty one-gallon Blazo can and cut the top out. This gave them a can with a rectangular opening on top. Then they took a round tuna can and opened it just enough to empty the tuna. Then they punched holes in the top and bottom of the tuna can, and in the sides of the Blazo can just below the top edge. Next they doubled up some twine, passed it through one of the holes in the Blazo can, through the top and bottom of the tuna can, and then through the hole in the other side of the Blazo can. They secured the tuna can in the mouth of the Blazo can and made sure that it would spin freely. They filled the Blazo can about a third of the way with water, and then spread peanut butter on the tuna can. They put this contraption in the cook tent near the bread box, and built a ramp up to the edge.

The idea was that a mouse would climb up the ramp for the peanut butter. The mouse would have to lean out on the wheel to get the peanut butter. The wheel would spin on the twine through its axis, dumping the mouse into the water in the bottom of the can. The water in the can was deep enough so that a mouse couldn’t touch the bottom of the can, but not deep enough so the mouse could swim to the edge of the Blazo can and swim out.

Jose and Glen named their contraption The Wheel of Fortune.

It caught eighteen mice the first night we used it! They never caught as many again, and the mouse problem became much more tolerable.

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Around the Fire

Camp life on a trail crew is centered around the camp fire. The camp fire becomes sort of like the crew’s living room/dining room combo. Meals are eaten around the fire. The seating arrangements are varied. Some people use folding camp chairs. There are always some log rounds scattered around from trees that had been cut for firewood. Yo2 was lucky in that we had several slickrock slabs sticking up out of the ground that were the perfect height for seats. My favorite meal-time rock faced both the fire and Vogelsang Peak. I spent a lot of hours that summer gazing up at that beautiful mountain during meals. One nice thing about granite is that it heats up in the sun during the day. The heated seat was nice.

After dinner, the camp fire was the place to be. Walkmen, or personal listening devices with headphones, were not allowed in community areas like the campfire. The idea was to get people to socialize with each other, not withdraw into themselves. Erin had a guitar he would bring out. Sometimes he would play songs and sing, but I remember him mostly softly strumming during conversations.

The camp fire was were old time trail crew stories and traditions were passed down to our generation. We got to hear about projects that our NPS sponsors had worked on in the past. We got to hear about old trail workers they had learned the craft from. We heard about the first time Tim Ludington had come into a trail crew camp. He saw the hot water in the jungle can and thought it would be a good place to ring out his sweaty bandana. His trail boss let him know quickly that the cans held drinking water. We heard about Erin’s experiences with Yosemite’s Backcountry Nordic Ski Patrol. The prior winter, Erin had been able to spend eighty days skiing. When Peter Lewis was in camp, we heard a story about the real ironman old timers. Peter had been cutting wood. The axe slipped and gave him a serious cut on his forearm. Peter said, “I’m talking arterial bleeding here!” The boss looked at the cut, said “I thought I taught you how to use an axe better than that,” and walked away. Peter and another crew member were left to deal with the cut by themselves.

We commonly had visitors in camp. Backcountry rangers would stop by on their patrols and spend an evening by the fire. Rangers were especially welcome because they would bring us goodies like fresh newspapers and M&Ms! The packers would spend the night once a week when they brought in our supplies. VIPs would stop by to see what a Backcountry camp was like. Martha D., the director of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, stopped by with some other LACC staff to visit Vic. He had been in the CCC a few years before, but came to Yosemite from the LACC. Some Corpsmembers from the Inyo crew who had been at Placer with Wayne spent a weekend to hike over and visit him. We were only seven miles in from a road, so we were the most easily accessible Backcountry crew for people who weren’t used to hiking much or didn’t have enough time to get to a more remote crew. Our camp fire was always open for guests.

One form of Backcountry entertainment was particular to the camp fire. Cooking grease was saved in a metal coffee can. (Since most coffee cans are plastic now, I thought this was important point out that it was metal!) When the can got full, it was time for the show. Showtime had to be after sundown. You’ll see why.

After the sky was dark, the grease-filled coffee can was set on the ground by the fire and pushed real close…not close enough to catch on fire, but close enough to bring the grease to a boil. While the grease was heating, a second coffee can was being fitted into the end of a rake. It was critical that this can be fixed securely to the rake. When the grease was sufficiently bubbling, the person in charge of this particular entertainment would fill the coffee can in the rake with cold water. Next came the tricky part.

Standing as far from the fire as possible while still being able to reach the grease can with the rake, the stuntman held the cold water over the grease can, and then quickly dumped the water into the grease can.

The fireball could be ten or fifteen feet high!

And that, boys and girls, is why we never throw water on a grease fire in the kitchen!

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The Dish Pit

A central point of social life on Yo2 was the dish pit.

I suppose it was technically the dish line, but the pit itself seemed to be the focus of attention. I got to dig the dish pit when we set up camp. It was about two feet deep, three feet wide, and six feet long. It felt like I was digging a grave until I got down to slick rock.

When the pit was finished, we set up the dish line. This was a waist high table that went the length of the pit. There was a specific protocol for washing dishes. Three big metal tubs lined the left side of the table. The first tub was for hot soapy water. The second was for a hot bleach water rinse. The third was for a cold water rinse. To the right of the tubs was plenty of flat drain board space.

Hot water for washing the dishes came from the two thirty gallon metal cans we kept on a grate over the campfire. These were called ‘jungle cans’. Water had to be hand pumped from the line running down into camp from Vogelsang Creek into buckets. The buckets were hauled over to the jungle cans and dumped in until the cans were full. A fire was kept burning under the jungle cans all day. Right around meal times, the fire would be stoked to boil the water in the cans. After a meal, water would be ladled out of the jungle cans into buckets and hauled over to the dish line. Hauling water back and forth between the pump, the jungle cans, and the dish line was only one of the KP’s daily jobs. A little soap was put in the first tub. A capful of bleach was put into the second tub. Then hot water was poured into those two tubs, and cold water into the third.

When the dish water was ready, the KP would holler “DISHES!!” That was our cue to assemble on the dish line. There needed to be at least four or five people on the line for the dish line to work—one at each of the tubs, one person drying, and one person running the dried dishes to the cook tent to be put away. The more people who showed up at the dish line, the faster the process went.

After the dishes were all washed, the tubs would be tipped up and dumped into the dish pit on the other side of the dish line. The pit filled up with water surprisingly fast. With the slick rock on the bottom, there was no place for the water to drain. The dish pit quickly became a nasty, greasy, spaghetti-sauce-red cesspool. The pit itself became a place to stay away from.

Every once in a while a dish would slip out of someone’s hands and fall into the dish pit. The person who had dropped it would become the next contestant on our Backcountry game show, Rake the Dish Pit. Mark Guthrie was our best announcer for this show.

“Ohhh, it looks like Matt is our next contestant on…Rake…the…Dish Pit!”

Matt grabbed the rake kept near the dish pit for this purpose. Mark kept calling the play-by-play as we continued washing.

“OK, Matt has the rake and makes his approach. He saw where it entered the water. Did it sink straight down, or did it spin away? Matt carefully chooses his footing. Not too close, Matt! We wouldn’t want any accidents here on…Rake…the…Dish Pit!”

The audience (us dishwashers) hollered, “Yes, we do!” “Fall in, Matt!!” “You can do it!”

“And Matt’s rake enters the water. Can he reach the bottom from there? Looks like Matt’s rake has touched the bottom, but not quite far enough. Gonna have to get a little closer to the edge there, Matt. Be careful! And here he goes, fishing around. And he’s stirring…stirring…and it looks like Matt has made contact! He’s dredging…pulling…can he get it out folks?”

“Fall in!” “Somebody push him!”

“He appears to have hooked something. And here it comes…he’s got it…and…it’s…it’s a coffee mug! Well, that’s not what Matt dropped in there! Where did that come from?! It looks like Matt is our bonus prize winner on…Rake…the…Dish Pit! Stay tuned as Matt comes back for his bonus round.”

Quality control was always important when washing dishes. Each person in the line was the QC inspector for everybody in the line ahead of him/her. If a dish came through with a little bit of food still stuck to it (which we learned from Moose is called ‘spooge’), whoever caught it would call “Quality control!” and toss it back into the first tub. If a dish got to the draining board with any soapy water still on it (soap residue on dishes could cause the runs): “Quality control!” and the dish would be tossed back into the rinse water. If there was still water on the dishes to be put away: “Quality control!” and the dish would be tossed back onto the drain board.

Dishes were washed by the crew twice a day, seven days a week, all season long. We saw a lot of each other in the dish line. Hikes were planned in the dish line. Current issues and abstract philosophies were discussed in the dish line. Tall tales were told in the dish line. Lives were changed in the dish line.

And life was good.

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The Arctic Front

The slap woke me out of a sound slumber.

Another slap smacked the outside of the sleeping bag. I stirred and opened the top of the sleeping bag just enough to see the edge of my cot in the dark. A blast of icy wind jetted through the hole as another slap blasted the sleeping bag. This time I heard the pop and smack that went with the slap. Was that a tarp?

I burst out of the top of the bag, sitting up on the cot, and sure enough a tarp slapped me in the face! It knocked me back down onto the cot, and then I heard the wind howling up the canyon and through our camp. The walls of the canvas wall tent I was sleeping behind popped in and out. The tarp that went over the top of the wall tent had slid down the back of the tent and several of the ropes had come loose. The tarp took another shot at me, but this time I grabbed it and held on. What was with this wind?! The wind filled the tarp and pulled, almost yanking me right off the cot. I managed to get the air spilled out of the parachute-like tarp and rolled over on top of it. The high end of the tarp still attached to the tent bucked and pulled, but it stayed under control. I pulled more of the loose tarp down and stuffed it under my sleeping bag.

I had never heard such a wind as the one roaring up the canyon that night. I heard tarps blowing all over camp. This was crazy! It was too dark to see much of anything. I didn’t hear anybody else up. I started to get up, but the tarp I was on top of started to slip loose…and it was cold out there in the wind! I didn’t think there was much I was going to be able to do about it by myself tonight. I made sure the tarp was bunched under my sleeping bag and under control, and then retreated back down into the dark blue nylon cocoon. It was going to be a long night. I listened to the wind howling up the canyon and shivered until my body heat warmed the air in the bag again.

Sunrise couldn’t come early enough. I must have drifted back to sleep at some point. When I opened my eyes, I could tell it was light outside. I peaked outside of my sleeping bag. It looked to be a little before six. I could hear the KP or the cook working inside the cook tent I was sleeping behind. I’d had marmot watch and was on the cot behind the cook tent. All was still. The wind had gone.

I sat up and looked around. The sky was cloudless and bright, even though the sun had not yet cleared Fletcher Peak. Camp looked different. The maintenance area rain fly was gone. The canvas wall tents were sagging, but it looked like they were all standing. Well, time to get up.

I reached down into the bottom of the bag for my brown CCC work pants. This was one of the tricks I had learned so far this summer. If you put the clothes you were going to be wearing the next day at the bottom of your sleeping bag, they would be nice and toasty warm in the morning. I got fully dressed before I got out of the sleeping bag. I swung my feet over the side of the cot and reached for my scuffed up, hard leather boots. I hadn’t been oiling them enough. Maybe this weekend…

I turned my boots upside down and shook them out. Then I reached inside them one at a time, inspecting for critters that might have crawled in overnight. They were clear, and I put them on. Then I just sat on the edge of the cot, gazing generally in the direction of Choo-Choo Ridge. I was tired. I didn’t want to move, but I eventually did. There really were no options…other than quitting. Even quitting would involve getting up and hiking out.

I walked around to the front of the cook tent. Our cook area had been destroyed by the wind. The rain fly that extended out from the tent like a porch awning was gone. The pot rack stood empty, the pots scattered all around camp. Kitchen equipment that was normally neatly arranged on shelves had been thrown back up onto the shelves in piles. Patti, the cook, stood over the propane stove bundled from head to toe. She had wrapped a scarf around her face and had big thick mittens on her hands. She stirred the eggs and looked up to see me coming around the tent.

“Good morning!” I think she said through the scarf. Her words were kinda muffled.

“Good morning!” I replied.

The coffee mugs had been blown off the rack, as well. I picked one up from the ground and checked it for critters. It was clean, so I headed for the coffee pot at the camp fire. Several crewmembers already stood huddled around the fire, shivering and holding their hands out to the warmth. I elbowed my way through the crowd to the coffee pot and poured myself a cup of the hot, thick cowboy coffee. I stood and joined the huddled circle.

Nobody spoke. Some people cupped hot mugs of coffee in their hands. Others held their hands out to the fire. Winter clothing was the norm today, even though there was no snow to be seen. I looked across the fire at Chris. He was from Maine. I was from northern Illinois, outside of Chicago. We had both laughed at weather the other Corpies thought was cold earlier in the season. His red rimmed eyes looked haggard this morning. A cigarette dangled from his lips, and the smoke wreathed up around his face and away.

“Hey, Chris,” I said. He just raised his eyes to me and squinted at me through the cigarette smoke. “Are you cold?”

Chris snorted and said “Yeah! I’m cold!”

I reached out with my foot and tapped my toe against the metal jungle can. “Excuse me. Excuse me!”

Everybody looked up at me.

“The boys from back East have determined that it is now officially cold. You may begin shivering.”

The groans and boos made me chuckle.

About then Patti called out “BREA-A-A-AKFA-A-A-A-AST!”

Ahhh! Hot food! We lined up and served ourselves. I grabbed one bowl and one spoon. I ladled some oatmeal and scrambled eggs into my bowl, laid a couple of bacon strips across the top, and then a cinnamon roll, and retreated to my favorite breakfast rock. It was a huge granite boulder sticking up out of the ground. It was just flat enough on top to make a comfortable seat. When the sun came up, solar heating would make the rock quite comfortable. It was a little early for a warm seat right now, though, but it was still my favorite spot. I laid my roll on the rock next to me and crumbled the bacon into the bowl, then stirred the oatmeal, eggs, and bacon all together. Delicious! And the best part…I would only have one bowl and one spoon to wash later! I had given up using a separate bowl and spoon for my oatmeal, and plate and fork for my eggs and bacon weeks ago. The fewer utensils to wash, the better.

Everyone was almost done eating when I saw Tammi drawing hot water from the jungle cans for dishes. Almost the entire crew headed over to the dish line this morning without being told to. Unusual! Then I saw the steam rising from the first dish pan. That explained it. The hot water in the dish line was the warmest place in camp right now. I joined them.

When the dishes were all washed and put away, the crew gathered our hard hats and daypacks and assembled for the days’ work assignments. We figured that some of us would be repairing camp, but that some of us would be going out on the trail. But Erin had a little surprise for us.

“The first priority for today is…to rebuild camp! The kitchen area needs to be rebuilt. The tents need to be straightened out. The maintenance area needs to be sorted out, and we need to find the fly and get it back up. So…let’s go to work!”

Nobody was going out on the trail yet! Well…okay!

We made short work out of repairing camp. By mid-morning, we were all assembled and ready to hit the trail.

Erin told us, ”Camp looks pretty good. Good job! But…it’s still pretty Arctic out there. Cold fingers and rockwork don’t mix. Cold fingers lead to smashed fingers. So…let’s take the rest of today off!”

We couldn’t believe our ears! We had never even heard of this before! Moose brought us back down to Earth a little bit, though.

“I haven’t collected your journals in a while. Write in those and turn them in. This would also be a good time to work on a crew newsletter. Let’s go!”

I went back to the canvas wall tent that I shared with Glenn and Mark. Well…when I wasn’t sleeping out in my ‘cave’ anyway! Chris and Dewey joined us, and we did our favorite Backcountry activity for a couple of hours…shooting the breeze! Moose came by at one point and stuck her head in our tent. We all picked up our journals and pretended to be writing in them. She looked at the mess…scattered dirty uniforms, books, camping gear…and chuckled. She said, “I always just need to peek in here when I need a good laugh!” She walked away chuckling.

The other guys decided to go work on newsletter article by the cook tent. I stayed in the tent. When they were gone, I laid back in my cot and stared up at the ceiling. At orientation, Peter Lewis had talked about hitting a ‘wall’ at some point in the season. ‘The wall’ is the point at which you would do almost anything to walk out of camp and go back down to civilization. He said we would be tired beyond belief, dirty, cold. We would question in our minds whether continuing was worth it or not.

“I think I’ve hit my wall,” I said to the empty tent.

Categories: Backcountry, Camping, CCC, Vogelsang, Yosemite | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Vogelsang Camp

Yo2 had a really beautiful camp at Vogelsang in ’87.

We were about ¼ mile south of the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. We were right below Vogelsang Peak, as majestic a peak as I have ever seen. We were close to Fletcher Creek. However, the septic problem we were there to fix involved effluent from the HSC getting into Fletcher Creek, so we could not use that for a water supply. In fact, the stuff we called ‘blue goo’ could still be seen oozing out of the ground in a few places.

We had to work a little harder and a little smarter to get our water supply into that camp. We laid out dozens of yards of ¾” ABS pipe and run that up to Vogelsang Creek before it joined with Fletcher Creek. The good part of this set-up was that we had to go up high enough to draw from Vogelsang Creek that the ABS line had enough pressure for us to cap it with a spigot. We had one running water line in a Backcountry camp! Woo-HOO!

Most of the raw water from this spigot was put into the two thirty-gallon jungle cans to be boiled. This was water used for washing and cooking. Any other water to be consumed had to first be hand-pumped through the ceramic filter. We had heard plenty of giardia stories. This was one safety item that everybody took seriously. Nobody wanted to risk giardia. It was the KP’s job to keep five or ten gallons of filtered water on hand at all times, but sometimes others would volunteer to run five gallons through the filter.

We had a never ending supply of wood for that camp. A wood supply for the campfire can be a problem at or above tree line. Erin had scouted this camp location well, though. Across the creek, at the base of Vogelsang Peak, was more down timber than we could possibly use in one season. The trees had all been knocked over by an avalanche a few years prior. The wood was down and seasoned!

One of my favorite views from this camp was the canyon rim on the west side. There was a line of peculiarly shaped rocks along the rim. The day I hiked in, I thought to myself “Wow. Those rocks look like a train!” When we all got to the camp and we had a minute of downtime, I asked Erin, “Does that ridge up there have a name?”

“Yeah. That’s Choo-Choo Ridge.”

“No way!”

“Yeah. It’s not named on any maps that I’ve seen, but it’s called Choo-Choo Ridge because it looks like a train.”

The most glorious alpenglow that I’ve ever seen was from this camp. Alpenglow is not a normal picturesque sunset in the mountains. Alpenglow is caused by sunlight that is refracted, or bent, by moisture in the atmosphere after the sun has dropped below the horizon. After the sun disappears, if the atmospheric conditions are right, the peaks will brighten back up as the refracted light reaches the peaks. On this particular evening, Fletcher Peak grew dark as the sun set, and then brightened up to an incredible gold color! This has to be where the legends of El Dorado, the Cities of Gold, originated.

Alpenglow on Fletcher Peak photo FletcherAlpenglow.jpg
Alpenglow on Fletcher Peak

One camp rule that was established by Tim Ludington in Wawona and carried on by Erin at Vogelsang was the ‘no Walkman’ rule in camp. The main parts of camp—the cook tent, the campfire, and anyplace around those areas people might be eating or congregating—were considered public areas for ‘community’. Being in these areas plugged into your own personal music was considered to be anti-social and poor trail crew camp etiquette. You could have your headphones on for your personal music in your tent or outside of camp. This was a rule that seemed unfairly arbitrary at first, but by the end of the season it was obvious to us the importance of people engaging one another instead of tuning people out and focusing on your own thing.

Categories: Backcountry, Camping, CCC, Vogelsang, Yosemite | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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